Reverb 16 | December 31 | Hope

Hope. What are you hopeful for in the new year?

I don’t have a Bucket List in the traditional sense.

Mostly because, despite loving to plan, I don’t want to prescribe. And partly because it sort of feels like tempting fate– as soon as I declare I want something, that something starts slipping through my fingers.

Instead of a list of things I need to do before I kick the bucket, I think of a list of things that fill my bucket.

I am glad I am writing this two days too late, because I am hopeful that yesterday (New Year’s Day) was just a foretaste of the feast of a great 2017. Aaron and I woke at the crack of dawn (after only 4.5 hours of sleep and, aside: I am not designed for staying awake until midnight anymore) and drove to the North Shore of Lake Superior–about 4 hours from home. Tettegouche State Park is host to a variety of trails, including ski and snowshoe, and a section of the Superior Hiking Trail.

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At the suggestion of the park ranger, we donned our snowshoes and headed for an area called The Drainpipe. We could see from the tracks that many other snowshoers had simply arrived at The Drainpipe and then retreated. But we could also see that sometime this winter, someone had gone up this narrow, nearly vertical path. So we tried it too.

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And what it unlocked to us was a section of the Superior Hiking Trail that has been untouched since the snow started falling this season.

The woods were silent and a gently blowing snow made everything glitter. We were setting our own path (with the occasional helpful guidance of the blue blazes that mark the through-hike). It wasn’t always easy, even with snowshoes, to tromp through the knee-high fluff. But we were oh-so-rewarded with the opportunity to be somewhere no one else has been yet this year.

 

 

And at the end of the day, after a warm meal and bellies full of delicious Fitger’s beer, I mentally put yesterday’s events into my bucket. The bucket I hope to fill with the best adventures and newly blazed trails before I kick it over in my final act of living.

And my hope is that the rest of the year is just like yesterday. A year of trail-finding and setting my own way, of climbing the Drainpipes after everyone else has turned back, of asking, “What’s over here?” and having an adventure partner who always says, “Let’s go look!”

Yes, 2017. Let’s go look.

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Reverb16 | December 30 | Undone

What did you leave undone? Do you intend to try again in 2017 or let it go?

Lot’s of things were left undone this year. On this day, I am okay saying that is The Way it Was for 2016.

The one that really slipped through my fingers this year was running the Twin Cities Marathon. I was close. Like, really close to having that happen. Due to a delayed training start after getting sick in the spring, I had to abandon some of my time goals and reshift to just a goal of finishing. Which, frankly, is enough for me.

August was a difficult training month. The weekday runs were getting in to the 6-8 mile range one to two times a week, and I was feeling pressure to find the time for those as well as my other obligations. Then the weather took an expected but still unwelcome turn for the hot and humid. A few times I told myself that training through some of that would make me stronger, but the runs were of such low quality I had to bring some training indoors. Running 8 miles on the treadmill in the gym at your workplace is… is probably not good for your spiritual health, to put it mildly. My 14 and 15 mile long runs were sufferfests, the 15 miler bringing my first good mid-run cry (at a busy intersection around mile 9).

And then the next week my 16 miler went by like a dream. The weather had finally cooled, the day was a bit rainy, I was calm and peaceful and it felt almost easy.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning to an ankle the size of a grapefruit. Two days later, an MRI confirmed some good news/bad news. I didn’t break, twist, or tear anything. But I did irritate the heck out of something because the entire ankle joint was filled with inflammation.

I was sentenced to the boot.

On the same day, my new running shoes– my marathon shoes– arrived in the mail. Neat.

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Even though it was only a two-week sentence, it came at exactly the worst time in marathon training, and I didn’t have the time to recover my training plan. The marathon would be left undone for me. The last (I think) of the long string of defeats brought to me in 2016.

Will I go back at it in 2017? I honestly don’t know. I am about 90% yes and then also 90% no, depending on the day. Marathon training is hard and time-sucking. I feel like I neglect my house and spouse a lot during the training, and make him skip out on some things to accommodate my weekend long runs. It’s hard to add in the other activities that bring me joy because I am always running.

Will I go back at it someday? Probably. Once you get the high of finishing a marathon, you don’t forget that feeling. And eventually, you go looking for it again.

 

Reverb16 | December 29 | Habit

Habits. Tell us one habit you would really like to undo in the new year – what is your strategy? Will you replace it with a good habit instead?

I have a lot of bad habits.

I am quick to anger. I am sometimes quick to judge. I stare into the abyss of my phone before I go to bed, even when a book is lying right next to me. I snack when I get home from work– and not on carrot sticks. I pile my things on the table in the Bob Dylan Room (this is our back room, because we have no formal entry or mudroom to speak of, and it is full of Bob Dylan memorabilia) and I do not clean them up. I seem incapable of watching only a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy at a time on Netflix. I hit the snooze on the alarm clock. I bite my nails.

Habits to give up? I have a few.

But the one I have been working hard to undo, and will continue in the new year, is the habit of negative talk about my own body. Many call this body-shaming, but to me that always makes me think of the big, bold sweeping statements we say when emotions are high. When I say those things, I generally know right away that I shouldn’t and I catch myself and correct. My much nastier habit is the micro-assaults I launch at my body on a regular basis.

It’s there when I say, “Well, girls who look like me can’t wear that” or “I could never pull that haircut off.”

It’s there when I change out of a shirt that fits nicely and I like but I won’t wear because it makes my shoulders look too big (newsflash: I do have big, broad shoulders).

It’s there when I dismiss my natural hair wave as a “bad hair day” because I didn’t blow dry and flat iron.

It’s there when I retake a photo two dozen times until the light is just so and my neck looks longer and my face healthier and my teeth whiter and my hair shinier.

I am in good company. Some research suggest women think negative thoughts about their body an average of 36 times per day. Sometimes, I participate in negative talk about my body only because I am in the presence of other women who are putting their bodies down. Other statistics suggest as many as 97 percent of women have regular negative thoughts about their bodies.

I’d like to meet and learn from the other 3 percent.

Obviously, I haven’t mastered ending this negative self-talk, but I have relied on a few strategies to manage and lessen it overall.

1. Notice it. In order for something to change, we have to first see how it happens. I started paying more attention to when I was talking negatively about my body and whether or not certain events triggered it. And it turns out, there were some key moments that I was more likely to engage myself in negative self-talk about my body– during certain points in my menstrual cycle (because it’s actually pretty damn hard to pull off a nice outfit when you are bloated and weepy), when I was with other women talking about bodies, when I struggled to put together an outfit that I like. Knowing that, I am able to intervene on my own behalf. I donated a lot of the clothing that doesn’t make me feel 100% and I loosely plan my work outfits for the week. When other women speak poorly about their bodies, I try not to join in but I also try not to chastise or judge. Instead, I often say things like, “Ugh. It’s so easy to get down about the way our bodies look!” and leave it there. Frankly, I don’t really have a plausible solution for menstrual bloating and neither does modern medical science. I presume that is because the field is dominated by men who have No Idea.

2. Stop comparing. Because it’s dumb. And maybe she is prettier or slimmer, but maybe she isn’t as funny or adventurous.

3. Counterstatements. Say a negative thing? Counter it right away with the truth. “My calves are too fat to fit in ANY skinny jeans” is wrong, and should be followed with, “My calves are strong from running and cycling and it is not my job to conform my body to the clothes– it is the designer’s job to make clothes for my body if they want my money.”

4. Take a deep breath and ask myself what matters. My grey hairs and crow’s feet are not hurting anyone. My shape and size do not build or destroy nations, relationships, progress, hope, or community. There are several important discussions we could have about my body– it’s strength and performance in sport, they way it has been victimized in the past, the significance of the beautiful tattoo on my thigh. None of them have to do with how it looks as compared to the “ideal standard of beauty.”

At the end of the day, I simply remind myself over and over again that I am beautifully and wonderfully made. Inside and out.

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Reverb16 | December 27 | Gifts

Gifts. Sometimes we get gifts that we don’t want or need. Are you honest with the person who gave it to you? Or do your gift givers follow a tried-and-true wish list? If you’re returning a gift this season, what is it and why?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I return almost nothing, ever, in the history of my life. Not the things you buy my and not the things I buy myself. Why? Because it’s bad enough when I make a purchasing mistake (ugh wrong size, not what I needed, oh I had one of these after all) or when I get a bad gift (not that common– thanks, friends and family!), but I am not going to take one mistake and drive it and myself straight into the depths of hell by trying to make a return at a store. Especially after the holidays.

I do not like crowds. I do not like the Byzantine Return Code of Law of the American Retail Store. I do not like receiving store credit for less than the item’s value because now that item is on sale. I do not like waiting. I particularly despise waiting in one line for 30+ minutes, only to be told that the return line is Over There.

There is not a gift I could receive that I would dislike more than going to a retail store after the holidays. And even there was, if it’s value is less than $100, it is not worth it to me go into the store. Yes. Stores will have to pay me at least $100 to enter and deal with their special brand of post-holiday misery.

The gifts that aren’t quite right for me are still usually right for someone I know, so I offer them up. Not as a re-gift, but as an honest, “Hey, I got this thing and I can’t use it, but you might. Want it?” Some stuff gets donated, because I know there is someone out there who needs it more than I. And some stuff sticks around because even though I don’t like it, I like who gave it to me and that’s enough to give it a home for a least a little while.

Reverb16 | December 26 | Boxing Day

Boxing Day. What does this holiday even mean? I think Harry Potter does it. But how do we unwind after the holiday?

I think my exact words were, “Do you know what today is?! It’s the furthest from the holidays we are going to be for the whole year. Every day is another step closer to the holidays. UGH.”

In truth, this was one of the better holiday seasons I have had in several years. I still Lost My Shit over it a couple of times in the final week, but it was better this year. We tried some new things in terms of celebrations and traditions and it was hard sometimes and it might not all stick but we tried. And our families tried, presumably out of love for us. Or because they were afraid I would finally really lose it completely. Whatever it is, I am here to put in The Written Word that I see that you tried, I acknowledge it, and I so greatly appreciate it– it was The Best Gift.

We spent the latter half of Christmas Day unwinding (hello, jigsaw puzzle and whiskey) and I more or less carried that exact mood and activity into Boxing Day with a brief trip to the outdoors store to buy a patch kit for the deluxe sleeping pad I recently bought for myself and then brought on a camping trip that included the dog. The deluxe sleeping pad now sports a gnarly 6-8 inch gash, courtesy of a dog that was just so happy to greet me in the morning that he ruined my things with enthusiasm.

I like to use this gap week between Christmas and the New Year to unwind my year and also prepare for the next one. I purchased a new planner [choir of angels sings the hallelujah chorus here], I am cleaning and organizing the house a bit, and I am setting goals for 2017. We don’t get a lot of fresh starts in life, especially in adulthood, so it feels good to take advantage of one when I can get it.

Reverb16 | December 25 | Picture

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Show us one picture that sums up your day, your family, what you are thankful for, what is important to you.

I didn’t take many pictures on Christmas Eve (besides the one drinking beers in a ski chalet) or Christmas Day. While I wasn’t in a social media blackout like I often do over some holidays, I was enjoying just being fully present in the celebrations.

While Christmas Eve was a flurry of activities– breakfast and gifts with His Family, skiing, dinner and gifts with Her Family, candlelight church service– Christmas Day was not. It was quiet. We went to my sister’s house for breakfast, in which my contribution would also make a great children’s book. The title would be, “The Cat Ate My Coffee Cake!” We celebrated a collection of my niece’s earliest steps. We opened lovely, thoughtful gifts. We drank coffee and told stories. It was everything about spending time with my family that spending time with my family has always been– comfortable, relaxed, reflective, funny.

We went home and had a relaxing day, just the two of us. I spent approximately 7 hours hunched over a jigsaw puzzle. Aaron was doing something with power tools. The animals, crazed by the packages and ribbons strewn about the house, chased and played. It was everything about spending time at home that spending time in our home has always been– comfortable, a little bit noisy, funny.

Unrelated: My dad did snap this picture and it’s not the worst photo of a person who’s kinda, sorta okay (wink, wink). 

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Reverb16 | December 24 |Traditions

It’s Christmas Eve, and Hanukkah starts tonight. Show us a photo of your favorite family traditions, decorations, or a special moment from the day if you celebrate.

As I posted on Instagram, Christmas Eve:

One of the hardest parts of marriage is combining/balancing our existing holiday traditions. One of the best parts of marriage is starting new ones. A few hours on the slopes and a couple of beers with this dude is pretty special. 

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Several years ago, I would have not been caught dead downhill skiing. Now this is part of the holidays I look forward to the most.

Love is weird like that.

Reverb16 | December 23 | Preparations

Preparations. Do you like to prepare waaaay in advance, and be prepared for every scenario? Or do you just do things on the fly by the seat of your pants?

 

A story that gets retold often, from my youth, that explains so much about who I am as an adult:

My mom reports that I always had to be given about a dozen warnings that something was going to change, particularly if we were going to leave the place we were in. She would say, “Katie, in 20 minutes we are going to go to the store.”
“Katie, in 15 minutes we are going to stop what we are doing, put on our shoes, and leave.”
“Katie, in 10 minutes we are going to leave.”
“Katie, in 5 minutes we are going to stop what we are doing and get our shoes.”

I like starting every week knowing EXACTLY what is going to happen that week. What days am I working out and do I need to go to work early to accommodate that? What days am I making dinner? Do I have any ‘co-curriculars’ this week? What exact time do I need to be in each place? How exactly am I going to get there (I take a lot of public transit, so figuring this out isn’t always so simple)? Which exact days do I have “free time” and exactly how much time is that?

A conversation that make me cringe:

“What time do we have to meet so-and-so for dinner?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe around 6ish.”

And also:

“Where are you going to get groceries?”
“Probably Lunds.”
“Which Lunds?!”
“I don’t know.”

I don’t know why I care when Aaron hasn’t chosen a grocery store, but I don’t like the uneasiness of not knowing.

I do know exactly what motivates this behavior, at least as an adult.

First, I have long prided myself as being a fierce and independent woman. The thought of being in a position that might be perceived as a damsel in distress does actually distress me. I don’t want to rely on others for help, especially for things I could have prevented or prepared for with just a bit of effort. I don’t want to be caught unaware or unprepared in a situation I cannot get my own self out of. Ever. It’s why I still carry a paper map and jumper cables in the car (even though I can hardly use either!). It’s why I almost always make sure to at least have some cash and enough change for bus fare.

Second, is the low-level but pervasive feeling that it could all crumble. I don’t entirely know what “it” is, but that idea that at any minute things could go so dramatically wrong that life completely changes. I know that, lots of times, those kind of events cannot be prevented, but I feel compelled to at least try. This anxiety has probably worsened since I got sick in the spring, and now I wish to go to the ER for every bump, bruise, or odd ache. It’s not normal, and I am learning to cope with it.

Somewhat ironically, I am generally not an overplanner on vacations, where most people tend to spend a lot of energy planning and maximizing their time. There is no itinerary for daily activities– not a lot of pre-scoping restaurants or things to do at our destination. I often just show up and see what happens. I don’t know why I can so easily turn the overplanning off as soon as I get out of town. Perhaps I need a vacation from that, as well?

Reverb16 | December 20 | Achievement

Achievement. Tell us about one thing you did or overcame this year that you are really proud of.

This year has been a long list of failures and false starts.

And I am not used to failing.

So not used to it, in fact, that this year when I didn’t get a job that I didn’t even want, I was still mad that I wasn’t their first choice so that I could, inevitably, turn them down. Super mature, I know.

But I am used to quitting. In an effort, I think, to save myself from eventual failure. Like, if I see failure coming, I quit. Or at least lower my own expectations of myself.

It’s not the person I want to be, but it is the person I am.

That sort of changed when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. And it probably seems weird that a relatively benign illness can have such a profound impact on a person, but it does. And where it really comes from is those few hours you don’t know that it is benign and harmless. Those hours you debate what is better to face*: a stroke, a tumor, or multiple sclerosis. Those few hours in the ER have dramatically impacted my life– the way I approach novel or scary things and the ways I want to spend my time and energy.

Even upon learning that it was “just Bell’s,” the truth was no one knew how long I would be dealing with it. For some, facial paralysis clears up in just 3 weeks. For others, 6 months or more. Many of us have lingering effects that aren’t as dramatic as facial paralysis, but still require a significant amount of adaptation. I suffer from constant ringing in my ear and an inability to modulate volume in my right ear– meaning background noise and the conversation happening right next to me all come at me at the same volume and I have a really hard time picking out the pieces I am supposed to be hearing and ignoring the pieces I am not.  I am also missing the “low vowel sounds” in that ear. A’s, O’s, and U’s. My left ear compensates outrageously well in normal situations. So much so that in a November hearing test, 6 months after the initial onset, I cried because it was the first time I realized those sounds were gone.

All this to say, “just Bell’s” is not as simple as it sounded in that first week.

Early on, I knew I had a choice to make. And I really made it in that first 12 hours when I bravely decided to go into work with my face paralyzed. That choice was not to hide from the things that are hard, and to stop quitting. Everyone said, “Oh, if this happened to me, I would stay home until it cleared up!” But after feeling like I might be facing numbered days, I certainly never again felt like I had 67 days to waste waiting to not be scared anymore. I hope I never do.

I just lived into it.

I went to work. I went to social gatherings. We traveled. People stared. People asked a lot of questions. I took pictures of myself and proudly half-smiled in the pictures others took. I dribbled a lot of beer down my shirt. We laughed about it. I was honest about it– the good and the bad.

And then, when life served up more shit sandwiches, I lived into those, too. It wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t always fun, and it wasn’t without heartbreak or loss.

But it was good. It was so, so good.

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*no pun intended, but it certainly is a good one! 

Reverb16 | December 19 | Littles

Little Ones. Whether you have kids of your own or not, there is likely a small person about who would like your attention. Tell us about what the kids in your life are asking for this season. Do you have any rules about how much to gift?

There’s a new Little in town this year.

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Bah. She slays.

This Spunky Brewster is my niece and she joined the family in February, making this holiday season my first real opportunity to spoil her until she bursts get her a few gifts. At 10 months old, she is getting SUPER fun so all I want to do is buy a bunch of stuff so we can have a SUPER fun time together. But my sister and I are cut from a similar cloth when it comes to our opinion of Stuff & Things: less is more, experiences are better. I followed that (more or less) this holiday season and tried to keep the amount of Stuff & Things to a minimum. And compared to what I wanted to buy this little lady (the moon, the stars, a screen-accurate Yoda costume), I think I did pretty well. I can’t say exactly what I got her, because she might be reading this (she’s super intelligent and she gets it from her auntie), but, based on my complete lack of knowledge about babies, I tried to stick with things that are:

1) good for brains,

2) fun today and could be fun still in 2-3 years, and

3) one sentimental, but useful!, thing from the heart.

I avoided things that make any outrageous sounds, because at my wedding 3 years ago I learned that my sister is better at revenge than any of us ever knew. I do not want that exacted on me with an army of light up, noisy toys.